Being young comes with its own set of challenges. Waiters ask you if you want kids’ menus, you get carded at R-rated movies, and parents just don’t understand. While these situations are frustrating, they also have their upsides (chicken nuggets for dinner, anyone?). And in comedy, where so many things are upside down, that frustratingly unusual perspective is a huge asset for teen comics.
Because it’s true. Adults don’t understand — which means kids like us have the comedic chance to explain it all. A lot of our favorite comedians started their careers in their teens, like Tiffany Haddish and Josie Long. And lots of teens are starting out in comedy right now!
But howww? I hear you. Well, what do I know? I’m just a teen standup comedian. Here’s how I see it.
Get inspired by a role model…
Teen comic and Inspiring Person™ Avery Lender says that her favorite comics are the ones who manage to be funny in ways that she’s not- comics like Dave Chappelle and Donald Glover, who are opposite from her style, but funny nonetheless. However, she loves female comedians best. Mindy Kaling, in particular, is a role model–she is a writer with her own tv show, her own book AND she was on The Office…talk about #goals! Female writers in particular help Avery see how to construct a joke and bring her own personal spin on it. And finding your own mentors will help you, too.
…or, better yet, a mentor
First thing you need is a doorway into that crazy world of comedy. Now more than ever, teens are helping teens get into comedy and slowly taking over, one millennial-run industry at a time! Just kidding. Sort of. Teens are helping each other out: they are even writing books on it, like Young, Funny, and Unbalanced, the book from the Kids ‘N Comedy team. If you don’t want to commit to a whole book about it, check out their blog!
Don’t “find” the time … MAKE the time
Finding time to do just about any extracurricular activity is hard. Comics, especially teens, have to be extra dedicated to squeeze it in between sports, college applications, and homework. We don’t recommend it, but Alyssa Stonoha says she even used to do her homework “like, in between classes.” Not great for grades, but potentially great for comedy!
Figure out what builds your confidence. Then do that. A lot.
Even if it’s just making your mom laugh, like Avery Lender, finding something that makes you feel funny is a great confidence boost. And that boost will keep you going when things get challenging. We comedians, in particular, are our own biggest critics. Even Mindy Project legend Chris Messina says he doesn’t find himself “particularly funny.” So spend time filling that emotional bucket with self-confidence so you’ll have it when the well runs dry.
Negotiate late night gigs with your parents (or find daytime ones). As a certified teen, you probably aren’t allowed in bars yet. Don’t despair! There are other options. Weekends are great, and so are comedy clubs who allow teens to perform (like the Broadway Comedy Club). Also, remember that mentor we mentioned earlier? Introduce this person to your parents. Even if she’s not old enough to be a chaperone, you can invoke the safety of the good old buddy system.
Remember who runs the world. But we don’t run comedy … yet. YET.
Being the ‘token girl’ in comedy can be hard. Even Avery says that she doesn’t “think girls are encouraged at all to be funny.” The important thing in comedy, like in life, is to remember to ignore anyone telling you you can’t do it. Sexism can look like a lot of different things, from the classic “women aren’t funny” to eye-rollingly stupid catcalls to even backhanded compliments from other women (see: “you’re so brave to do that” and “I love how you don’t care what anyone else thinks”). When in doubt, gird your emotional loins and prove ‘em wrong. Nevertheless, PERSIST!
Write what you know…carefully.
If your comedy is based in your personal life, be aware of how it might affect anyone you talk about. Being funny and being mean aren’t (necessarily) the same. If your jokes are about things like “peanuts and lizards and sexual harassment,” like teen-comic-turned-adult Alyssa Stonoha, keep private things private, or at least change the names to protect the innocent.
No one ever said comedy was easy. Remember that you have plenty of funny years ahead of you. Not getting a laugh won’t kill you — but losing your passion might. Stay funny, ladies!
Gillian Rooney is a teenage American comedian and writer based in Connecticut.